By Kristin Wong
In my elementary school Texas history class, we learned that many of the States' first American colonists were debtors. People moved to the sweltering, mosquito-riddled republic in order to escape their creditors back in the home. In its early days, Texas was an awful place, filled with danger, discomfort and war.
Today, Texas isn't a whole lot better. If you've ever suffered through a Houston summer - your thighs melting to your car's upholstery, your armpits dripping like a leaky faucet - you know it isn't the most comfortable place to live. No one vacations in Texas. For the most part, no one raves about the views or the weather. With some exceptions, the only incentive for moving to a place like Texas is, usually, a monetary one. Yet I found myself moving back there in an attempt to be resourceful, and couldn't shake the feeling that in some ways I, too, was like a spendthrift settler of Texas history.
Frustration set in when I graduated in 2005 with about $12,000 worth of student loan debt. These days, that may be a mere drop in the bucket for some students, but back when I was earning less than ten bucks an hour, $12,000 seemed overwhelming. I knew had to start somewhere, and fast.
Luckily, I found a salaried job by early 2006 and things were going well. I became good friends with my new co-workers, who even invited me on vacations. They also regularly went out to restaurants, clubs, bars, and concerts. Sometimes I joined them, but each time could feel the pressure of that pesky $12,000 weighing on me. A twenty-five dollar plate of fresh sushi just doesn't taste as good when you know you can't really afford it. Within a few months, frustration turned into feeling oppressed, and my debt was ruling my life.
By 2007, two great things happened. First, my student loan had dwindled to $6,000. In less than a year, I'd paid off half of my debt. My job wasn't great, but I proved that the old, "live below your means," adage really does work. Second, around this time, I'd been offered a new job: one that paid nearly twice as much as my previous job. I figured if I maintained my current lifestyle, I could probably pay off my loan in six more months.
However, for the first time I was earning enough money to buy things I'd always wanted: new clothes, a chic apartment. At one point, I considered to myself, "I'll just pay the minimum and enjoy life a little." Still, I somehow knew that, "enjoy now, pay later," wasn't working out very well for a hell of a lot of Americans. So I decided to try the opposite: "pay now, enjoy later." So I kept going.
Then, I became a little depressed. Six more months of holding back? Not enjoying the money I earn? I'm young! I want to live, already! If only there was a way to pay off my debt sooner, I thought, so I could start living the life I wanted.
But during my debt repayment journey, I learned to be resourceful. That resourcefulness helped me realize there was an opportunity to pay off my debt faster. Frustrating as it was, I resolved to join my friends less and less often. I turned down tropical trips in favor of paying off my debt. I'm still not sure where the will power came from, but it was there.
Finally, I moved to a place I wasn't particularly fond of, a place that was kind of oppressive and not very comfortable: my parents' house in Texas.
It was a bit of a sacrifice, but I saw it as a get-out-of-debt opportunity. Sure, many people don't think of moving in with your parents as much of a sacrifice. To them, I'll simply say: you don't know my parents. I love them, but 2007 was a rough time for all of us, and our family was going through some difficulties. It wasn't the easiest time to live together, but I toughed it out and in a few short months, paid off all of my student debt.
In the seven years that have passed, I moved to a nice apartment in Los Angeles, traveled the world several times and even switched careers. I can't attribute all of that to paying off my debt in a year, but it's probably safe to say it helped. The frustration and oppression of debt was difficult. That's why I wanted it to be over as quickly as possible.
Not everyone can move in with their parents. Not everyone can live below their means or find a better paying job. But sometimes opportunities arise in unlikely places, and it takes resolve to see those possibilities.
Our economy hasn't fared very well with the, "enjoy now, pay later" mentality, nor is a lifetime of delayed gratification a favorable alternative. Maybe it's just a matter of comproimse to view the situation differently and, "pay now, enjoy sooner." While debt can take a toll, it is far from insurmountable with a lot of willpower and just a little resourcefulnesss.